Missy Elliott’s third album, Miss E… So Addictive, was a landmark. It spawned three enormous hits, danced beautifully between hip-hop and club cultures, and cemented Elliott’s status as one of the most creative artists of all time. “I think this album is my best album,” Elliott said, with a huge smile, at the time of its release, in 2001. “This album, right here, is retro meets techno meets futuristic. It’s not just a hip-hop album. People are not really gonna know what to categorise this album.”
The creativity: “I had a whole imaginary world”
“My music could be a substitute for a drug,” Elliott said in 2001, explaining Miss E… So Addictive’s punning title. “For me, it’s like once you play this CD once, you’re going to have to keep playing it again and again. And that’s what becomes so addictive: my music.”
One of the most influential female musicians in history, Missy Elliott grew up as an only child, in difficult home circumstances of abuse and poverty. Her imagination, and her idols, were her means of escape. She wrote to Janet Jackson and Diana Ross; she sang in her room, to an audience of her dolls. “It goes back to being the only child,” she said in 2014. “I didn’t have brothers and sisters to play with so I created a world of my own. Everyone had imaginary friends, I had a whole imaginary world. I would be in no place that was on map.”
Elliott’s fertile inner world and her comfort with solitude allowed ideas to seed and grow away from convention. Her lyrics are unexpected, her imagery striking. “I’ve always had an imagination and I listen to a lot of different writers,” she said back in 1999. “If you listen to my songs, they tell stories. I don’t write in song form; I write almost as if I’m in conversation with somebody.”
The influences: “I go back and listen to older music”
Missy Elliott has said that, when she begins work on a new album, “I never listen to what’s out. I go back and listen to older music.” Get Ur Freak On, the lead single and unstoppable catchy force behind Miss E… So Addictive, is an example of how Elliott took her influences from older and non-Western musical sources. Using the traditional Indian instruments tabla and tumbi, Get Ur Freak On combines deep bhangra with hip-hop, bleeding the two into a stunning groove. Elliott also uses Japanese elements on the track, and brings in a sample from new-age German artist Karunesh (appropriately enough, the sampled track is from an album titled Global Spirit).
Elliott’s openness to other cultures on Miss E… So Addictive was something important that she felt others should know before working with her. She reportedly took the director of the Get Ur Freak On video, Dave Meyers, out to see the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon before they began shooting. “Most artists didn’t take the time to vibe with me prior to a video, so I was swept away by her creative courtship,” Meyers said. “Sensing and understanding her ideology, I felt like, if I don’t go far enough, she’s not gonna like it.”
The sex: “Females can relate”
Making songs that, as Elliott put it, “females can relate [to]”, was a vibe that emerged on the album. “I knew that One Minute Man was going to be one of those that the girls were going to love,” Elliott said. “Those are the fun records that tap into a whole other side that make the girls feel like, ‘Girl that’s what I’m talking about.’ They’re songs that they’re going to play around their dudes to get them mad.”
Released on 15 May 2001, Miss E… So Addictive emerged at a time when hip-hop was becoming highly sexualised. The pioneering Lil’ Kim, in particular, was redrawing boundaries that would rap would never retreat from – rhyming on every aspect of sex, unafraid to articulate her own desires and prowess, all in the most explicit terms. Already firmly established as one of the best female rappers of all time, Elliott was equally frank, but her raps on sex were funny as well as lustful. She took implicit swipes at a culture that, back then, only saw one female body type as sexual, and One Minute Man is a perfect example of Elliott at her filthy best.
The guest stars: “We were all like family”
Miss E… So Addictive is laden with collaborators. Yet while there are established star features in the shape of Jay-Z, Eve, Ludacris and Busta Rhymes, the biggest buzz came with a new artist: Tweet, the sweet voice honeying over the album’s intro track.
Missy and Tweet went back years. “We all stayed in the [same] apartment complex,” Tweet said in 2010. “We were always doing songs. Missy was a writer, so she wrote songs for [Tweet’s group] Sugah… We were all like family. So when Missy left to do her solo project, she came back and got me because she recognised my talent.”
The clubs: “I’m not a party person”
Ecstasy (the drug) had been at the centre of club culture for over a decade when Elliott circled the standalone “E” in the title of Miss E… So Addictive. It made the letter look pill-like and left no doubt as to the drug reference. It was therefore appropriate that the album contained Elliott’s most club-friendly song to date, 4 My People, which made a particularly huge impact thanks to 2002 remix by Basement Jaxx.
This was despite Elliott’s aversion to large get togethers. “I’m not a party person,” she said back in 1999. “I’d start getting wheezy and thinking everyone’s staring at me, and then I get like Carrie: ‘They’re all gonna laugh at you.’”
Get Ur Freak On, too, was not only a dance smash but was at the forefront of another trend: ringtones. Two years before Crazy Frog sold pop ringtones to the masses, thousands patiently tapped the correct number sequence into their Nokia Composer in order to emit a charming, tinny version of the track.
The future: “I spent so much of my career making music that’s just fun”
Elliott has said that Miss E… So Addictive was her final album to be totally light-hearted. “I spent so much of my career making music that’s just fun,” she said in 2021, in conversation with Doja Cat, “and around my fourth album I started talking about what I went through in my childhood.” Under Construction, released a year later, was certainly more introspective, as Elliott worked through her past alongside her grief at the shock loss of her close friend Aaliyah.
But, for now, the clubbable, quotable, joyous sound of Miss E… So Addictive remains a habit-forming ride. It’s no wonder that Elliott herself became exhausted with its energy. Upon its release, there was only one thing the frazzled maverick wanted.
“I most definitely need a vacation,” she said.
Find out where Missy Elliott ranks among the best female rappers of all time.
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